Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A quick trip through Zimbabwe and Mozambique

7400km's from point of destination

As we sit in Blantyre, Malawi, impatiently waiting for a rear tyre to arrive from South Africa for our lovely Yele, we thought we might update you on the last couple of weeks. We arrived at Vic Falls from Botswana after a long day in the hot sun trying to cross the border into Zim. Within an hour we had been stopped at a road block and also pulled over for speeding. Here's the thing, to this day there has never been an instance where my wife has told me to go faster, never! Not in a car or on a motorcycle. On this particular day, just after we crossed the border and before we encountered our first man of the law, I saw a sign that said 80kmh. So at that speed we went. After about 15 minutes Karla taps me on the shoulder and says, "Why are we going so slow?". I reply something along the lines that I think the speed limit is still 80 as there has not been a sign indicating otherwise. Admittedly, this really should have been a 100km road. "Come on...let's get going!", said Karla. We proceeded to edge towards 85kmh and, just like that, out jumped three police chaps with their radar. I couldn't believe it! As we were summonsed to the side of the road I very politely pleaded innocence, "My bike, with this load, can only do 80 officer, I've been watching it the whole time!" Well, that went nowhere and we were asked to park up and receive and pay our fine. Karla jumped off and I proceeded to park the bike on somewhat hilly ground. As I hopped off I heard Karla cry, "Yele" and there our bike was falling in slow motion to the ground (the bike needs somewhere flat to be able to rest on her side stand). I rescued her as the officers realised they were going to have a hard time issuing a fine when I was holding up a bike and promptly told us to be on our way and "don't speed!" We made a mental note to ourselves re: the way to avoid fines in the future!

Oh Zimbabwe!! The land of infinite speed traps and that man Bobby Mugabe. Karla and I met some really lovely folk in Botswana that were from Harare in Zimbabwe and so we hooked up with them after Vic Falls. Robin was, up until recently, the Zimbabwean cricket coach and told me this funny story which I simply have to share. Don't quote me on the dates or the exact nitty gritties but the gist of it is absolutely true;

On a particular day Zimbabwe celebrates their independence and apparently it is a rather big deal. Everyone who is anyone is there and Bobby Mugabe and his croonies stop the country and make sure every form of media has been hijacked to ensure the country watches the celebrations. So, five or six years ago this day came around as is the norm, cue Mr Mugabe standing on the stage being watched by the country waiting for the air force to do their fly over to celebrate all that is good about the Zimbabwe and it's air force. Well he stood, and he stood and he stood some more. Cue a very uncomfortable silence... I have no idea how long it took for someone to say let's move on but eventually it was clear to all that the air force weren't coming. Apparently the jets took off on time from some 90kms away, no problem with that, the issue was that it turned out to be a little far and the pilots could not find Harare, the capital city. TRUE STORY!!! We were told they were all promptly fired, some say worse!

Zimbabwe, land of the 100 trillion dollar note (we have one, it's worth nothing) has now converted its currency to the US dollar and only the dollar...there are no cents in the country and we found it amusing that change is provided in however many South African Rand they think is correct, an "I owe you" written on a piece of paper from the local supermarket or your choice of lollipop. It is also the land of the magnificent Victoria Falls and the ferocious Zambezi river. I was here as a youngster about 16 years ago, I rafted the Zambezi then as a wild child who lived for all things fast and furious. Now I was back and this time it was my wife who wanted to experience one of the world's most challenging rivers to raft on. And did we have a ball!!! If you are ever in Zimbabwe or Zambia for that matter you simply have to do this, it's not negotiable. The grade 4 and grade 5 rapids (Grade 5 is the highest that you can commercially raft and there are only a few places in the world that you can do it) are so wild that they swallow whole rafts and spit people out in all directions. Karla loved it big time, wishing it could have lasted longer! Afterwards, we gossiped about the two Frenchies on our boat! He was hamming it up for the cameras and she simply sat there as if on a canoe whenever we were supposed to be hammering our oars into the walls of water that were engulfing us. I have the video to show you at some stage! Anyhoo... We will be doing it again in Jinja, Uganda which is another grade 5 river in a few months time.

Zimbabwe is also a land of extreme power cuts, sometimes 12 hours a day even in capital/major cities! Locals were struggling to say the least but they simply accept these things and get on with life. Thus, we found the Zimbabweans extremely tenacious and very friendly. They have all been through some really rough times but things are definitely on the up for this country. The locals appear to be returning to rebuild and there appears to be some positive investment happening which is really great. I think the really sad thing about this lovely land is that it was once such a majestic place, still evident in the streets of Bulawayo and Harare, but now there are so many empty shops and houses. The big colonial streets are very grand, covered in large trees and lined with glorious jacarandas and poincianas. I have not seen houses of this size anywhere else in all my travels, people lived really well here and indeed some still do. I really did not expect the levels of positivity that we experienced, you can feel that things are getting better. We had some really interesting interactions with some locals who told us how bad it really was not so long ago. It must have been quite a frightening place to be.

A week is hardly sufficient time for a country like Zimbabwe, we missed Lake Kariba and the beautiful eastern highlands so we will be back. To boot, Karla got quite sick in Vic Falls and had to spend the day in hospital. She is all good now. Also, the people were fabulous too and a country rebuilding itself needs all the help it can get.

We were in and out of Mozambique within 24 hours so don't really have too much to say about it really. We were both sad not to have been able spend some more time there as it was a massive change to what we had seen in all of the previous countries. A lot poorer, they speak portugese and they have really cheap and great seafood. We travelled through some pretty villages and stayed the night in a town called Tete. Here noone wears helmets and there are a few boys on big superbikes which was a bit of a surprise to say the least. Turns out that they are all stolen in South Africa and brought across the border. We promised ourselves that we would make it back here some day. I sense a repeat trip...

As mentioned earlier, we are actually in Malawi now, the rear tyre butchered following a pesky bolt and that has led to some interesting interactions. But you will have to wait a little while yet, we have yet to complete this small but crowded landlocked country and still have people to meet. As a preview, we have reverted to buses, bakkies and bicycle taxis as our lovely Yele waits for new shoes. The locals have proven interesting, and the lake is simply beautiful.

More to come shortly... here are a few shots of Zim/Moz...

Be well, thinking of those who are about to give birth, yes there are that many...

P and K xxx

Vic Falls

A bus stop in Zim! It is burnt along many of the main roads in Zimbabwe - we thought they might have been backburning everywhere but we were told that the locals just like fire (for all sorts of reasons).

These were temporary toll gates set up at regular intervals along the roads in Zim, apparently the fees go to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and then....we're not sure.

The landscape between Zimbabwe and Mozambique is dotted with the beautiful baobab. We have a habit of nudging each other and pointing, it seems,to each and every one. This is the largest one we've seen thus far...pretty huge hey!

The pretty tree-lined streets in Harare, Zim.

Here's a fellow we met in Zim...He rides around on his bike delivering various things such as milk and parmaceuticals to communities in need for the organisation 'Mother of Peace'.

A Mozambiquan village set amongst the baobabs, we think it would definitely be a sought after location!

The stunning scenery on the border of Mozambique and Malawi.